Women’s and Gender Studies Program Cut At LSU

Story by Alexandra Smith

Valentine’s Day is meant to make people feel loved. However, this year was a sad Valentine’s Day for the 460 programs around the state being reviewed by the Louisiana Board of Regents, the body that oversees the state’s higher education system, and a particularly heart-wrenching one for Women’s and Gender Studies.

A few of the books used for WGS courses. Photo by Alexandra Smith

The WGS program at Louisiana State University will consolidate the Bachelor of Arts degree program to a concentration in liberal arts because of low-completion rates. WGS was one of 34 University programs the Board identified as having low graduation and enrollment rates.

“After the recent threat of termination, I decided that the time had come to let our current program revert to the concentration under the Bachelor of Libral Arts program it was five years ago rather than risk losing that too,” said Michelle Massé, director of Women’s and Gender Studies.

The WGS program was terminated after its evaluation in January 2010, but the Board reinstated it in August, giving it an extension of three years.

“We were relieved when we were given an extension,” Massé said. “However, in being told again and again that numbers of majors are the only argument the Board will hear, I’m sadly aware that our numbers have dropped, not gone up, in the last year, in part because of the Board’s own actions.”

Massé believes that it is the continuous threat of termination of the program that keeps students away.

“When students see there’s problem they do not want to sign up,” said Massé.

Massé said she does not know yet when the change will occur. Once the program is consolidated, students will no longer be able to declare a WGS major.

“Students who have already declared it a major will still be able to continue the program, and nothing will change with the minor,” said Massé.

Many WGS students feel that the university is undermining their program and not taking it seriously.

“I think it’s really stupid,” said Lacy Heron, a WGS minor. “It’s devaluing the importance and independence of women’s studies everywhere.”

Massé agrees, “We were the 50th flagship school to gain a WGS program, and we are one of the first to lose it.”

“I constantly ask, ‘What is being achieved?’” said Massé. “The loss of the master degrees throughout the university is saving no money.”

“The only thing being lost is our reputation, and we will not be able to readily repair it,“ she said.

It’s all about the numbers

Since being reinstated in August, the WGS program has been working hard to recruit more students. Last semester the department made T-shirts to sell to raise money and awareness for the program.

“We have been working on other things as well,” said Massé. “We recruit in classrooms on campus, as well as reach out to high school students.”

Massé said it is important for high school students to be aware of programs like WGS in college.

“Unlike a lot of other states, Louisiana doesn’t have WGS classes in elementary or high school,” said Massé. “So they have no experience and probably have no idea such a thing exists.”

In an effort to attract more students, WGS is offering three new courses:

  • Evolution of Sex and Gender
  • Gender and Popular Culture
  • Gender and Health

This is English Instructor June Pulliam’s first semester teaching Gender and Popular Culture and she can already see the diversity among the students in the classroom.

“Usually in classes like this I see just WGS majors or minors, but in this class there are students from many different programs,” said Pulliam. “It is encouraging and gives the classroom great diversity.”

Although Pulliam is technically an English instructor, she has taught many WGS classes.

“There are no teachers in only the WGS department,” said Pulliam. “WGS borrows teachers from other departments.”

Pulliam believes that using teachers from other departments to teach special section WGS courses is a great way for students to learn and understand the material more clearly.

“I love teaching about pop culture,” said Pulliam. “This is how I see the world, and it allows me to develop my own scholarship a little more.”

Pulliam agrees with Massé in that cutting the WGS degree is unfair.

“It’s just a program the university can say, ‘look we got rid of a low-completer program,’” said Pulliam. “We are fighting a loosing battle.”

Looking ahead

Pulliam does believe that one day LSU will have a WGS degree again.

“Things will get better eventually, we will get it back,” she said. “It may take 10 to 15 years, but it will happen.”

Massé said she wishes everyone could see what she, the WGS students, and teachers see, “a wonderful, diverse program that educates.”

“Many advisors, even here, don’t realize what a rich and exciting program we have here,” she said. “So if advisors don’t know about it then they cannot inform students about it.”

Massé said she believes that the WGS enrollment would be higher and none of this would be happening if people were taught courses like WGS in early education, or were at least informed about the courses in college.

“They don’t come here interested in WGS; they leave here interested in it,” Massé said.

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